Hey, “S.W.A.T.” is back, with its chart-topping Barry De Vorzon opening theme, just in time to stop you wondering when the next 20th century cop show was going to get a 21st century reboot. It begins Thursday on CBS, where “Hawaii Five-0" and “MacGyver” are already in progress.
Essentially a militarized police procedural, or perhaps a domesticated military drama, it fits right in with the fall’s crop of special-ops shows — “SEAL Team,” “Valor,” “The Brave” — with their focus on unity-from-diversity, sexy hardware and specialized jargon. Characters here say soldier-y things like “Keep it clean,” “Stay liquid,” and “We got rabbits.”
SWAT, you possibly never knew, stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. These teams — there are precisely two in the series, vaguely rivalrous, unequally enlightened — are the tough who get going when the going gets too tough for the ordinary weapons and tactics of ordinary police officers. They came into being, notably if not originally in Los Angeles, as a response to 1960s civil unrest, but the new series endeavors to be up front about the circumstances of rage and disillusionment on “the street” and elsewhere — even as it pumps for law and order and flashes its fancy guns and gadgetry.
Shemar Moore, jumping over from the network’s “Criminal Minds,” stars as Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson, following Steve Forrest in the mid-1970s series and Samuel L. Jackson in the 2003 big-screen revival. Hondo becomes the leader of his SWAT team after beloved but aging Buck (Louis Ferreira) mistakes a civilian for a villain and steps down.
That Hondo is promoted over senior teammate Deacon (Jay Harrington) is the source of friction for a minute or two. (Devotion to duty trumps personal resentments.) The promotion is seen as political, even by Hondo — who, like Buck’s victim, is black, where Deacon, a character played by African American actors in earlier versions, is white.
“What color you supposed to be brother, black or blue?” he is asked by a bit player at a protest rally. “You’re going to have to choose.” The point, of course, and the lesson, is that Hondo, a product and resident of the ’hood himself, doesn’t have to choose — that he is the right man for the job, with his street-bred mix of compassion and skepticism, and his heroic sense of personal responsibility. He’s got muscles too, conspicuously displayed.
Alex Russell plays the team’s other significant member, new kid Jim Street, a “transfer from Long Beach.” Street arrives at LAPD headquarters by motorcycle, popping a wheelie through a red light, to tell you everything you need to know about him in the space of an intersection.
With its characters at once thin and broad; its L.A. backdrop; and its mix of existential philosophizing, social commentary and corny representations of hot-button issues, “S.W.A.T.” also recalls and has some of the appeal of Jack Webb’s classic “Dragnet,” but with a more progressive outlook and a sprinkling of sex scenes.
Those are the province of Hondo and superior officer Jessica Cortez (Stephanie Sigman), whose relationship breaks department rules and worries her more than him: “I’m a woman, I’m young, I’m an immigrant — that’s three strikes for a lot of the brass.” The brass, as is not untypical of cop shows — and military dramas, for that matter — can be a pain in the side of the boots of the ground.
Most of the other regulars are, for the moment, a blur in the background, personalities in the way chess pieces are: They have an identifiable shape; there is a thing they do. The team’s designated female (Lina Esco as Christina “Chris” Alonso) registers as little more than the team’s designated female (who is also one of the boys). Still, this is the sort of show that over time — and CBS series do tend to get the gift of time — does get around to filling in the outlines, fleshing out the types. In a couple of seasons, they may all seem like old friends.
In the meantime there is plenty of action to distract you — the running and the crouching, the driving and the shooting, the coordinated team effort and the bold individual action, whether the impossible sniper shot or the speech that makes the sniper shot unnecessary. For many viewers, “S.W.A.T.” will be the very definition of comfort television; you know who you are, and have at it.
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd